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What Surprised Me When Carol Bartz Was Fired from Yahoo

News of the (September 6th) firing of Carol Bartz, the former CEO of Yahoo, was met with praise. Her approval rating was low. According to some sources, she didn’t hit certain goals, which prompted the firing. Reports on the matter are mixed; during her two year tenure, revenues rose from 1.5 Billion to 2.3 Billion. Other news points to the stock price which rose only slightly from $11.59 the day she started to $12.74 the day she was fired. She was also in the wrong industry at the wrong time; similar businesses have recorded losses and lower revenues than previous quarters. (The web’s rising levels of content actually drive down the value of ads—so no matter who is at the helm, Yahoo will likely have problems.)

It’s hard to find an article about Carol Bartz without a reference to her “salty language.” She was well-known for swearing and being curt rather than courteous. Although I am aware of the double standards that unfortunately still exist for women in the workplace, I wasn’t aware of just how bad it was until reading the recent articles.

Sexism and Double Standards are alive and well!

People generally expect women to be sweet and nurturing, and when they are faced with a woman who doesn’t fit that description, they form negative feelings about that person. Since I don’t hold other women to the double standard, I didn’t know how others feel about this. I’ve worked with women on all points on the spectrum of nasty and nice. I didn’t view those who adopted more masculine talk peppered with profanity as being more aggressive than any man I had worked with.

But that’s where I was wrong. I’m clearly in the minority for feeling this way—other articles about Carol Bartz’s firing show that the constant mentions of her use of profanity point out how negatively others viewed her for it. When women swear, it’s still unexpected. Because of this, it’s noticed more than when men swear. Women are also generally perceived as being rude, pushy, and mean when they’re doing the same things a man does to become successful.

So, even if reasons for letting her go had nothing to do with her language, it does prove that if your bosses, team members, and other co-workers perceive you as being whatever they find undesirable, you are likely to lose your position.

A large company made a serious hiring blunder.

One important fact that seems to be forgotten in the other articles I read—she was like this before she got her position at Yahoo, and her assertive behavior is most likely why she became CEO. That’s the second thing that surprised me. I thought it was strange that there was so much approval for getting rid of someone who didn’t become that way overnight, and was known for acting a certain way. Why has no one else noticed this?

A story written by someone who was fired by Carol Bartz shows that swearing and being tough-as-nails wasn’t something that she developed only after she started working at Yahoo. Yahoo hired someone known for acting and speaking a certain way, and was somehow surprised that’s exactly what they got. She was a well-known CEO of another Silicon Valley company, and as high level positions go, she networked into the position. It’s not like Yahoo put an ad in the paper, interviewed candidates, and decided to hire Bartz without knowing exactly what they were getting. Jobs that come with golden parachutes aren’t granted to someone without an extensive background check.

Some articles point to the fact that Yahoo’s environment was not a good fit for someone who was so confrontational. I’m still surprised that Yahoo would hire someone at such a high level without ensuring a better fit for their culture. It’s easier to hire one person who fits the culture of the other 14,000 employees—and not the other way around.